When someone goes through dissatisfaction with their job or marriage and they are in their forties or fifties, the first thing everyone says is that they must be having a midlife crisis. We hear about this phase of life as people transition from young adult to middle age so often that it almost feels like a crisis is a “given”. And, on some level, it may be. As people go from being the young, carefree person of their twenties who is just getting established in a career or marriage, to the responsible person who is expected to have gotten their lives together by the time they reach their forties, it is inevitable that people will look back and second guess decisions or wonder “what if.” For many people, this emotional jolt can bring on midlife anxiety.
Midlife Crisis SymptomsUnlike a medical condition, midlife anxiety doesn’t have specific symptoms. Instead, it’s a mixture of emotions, feelings, and body changes that lead to the strong sense that something needs to change. Among other things, it can be triggered by factors such as an event that reminds you that you are aging, the death of a parent, children leaving home for college, or a health scare of your own. Things that might be signs of midlife crisis are:
- Unexplained annoyance or anger
- The desire to get in shape or surgically modify your body
- Coveting that shiny new sports car or wanting to try something daring, such as skydiving
- Feeling trapped – whether it’s financially, career-wise, or in your relationships
- Becoming preoccupied with death
- Constantly wondering where your life is heading or regretting your life choices
- Losing sleep or changing your eating habits
- Dissatisfaction with the things that used to make you happy
How to Cope if You’re Having a Midlife CrisisWhen you’re faced with midlife anxiety, the urge to do something – anything – can be very powerful, so the first thing to do is: nothing. Despite how you feel, this really isn’t the time to make major changes in your life that you may find yourself regretting when your anxiety has diminished. Instead:
- Mourn your losses, but don’t dwell on them. Try to reframe the negatives by looking at them in a different way.
- Take some space away from your daily routine to pause and think about the next phase of your life. What new ambitions do you have? What would you like to accomplish over the next few years? Ignore the little voice in your head that tells you that you are being selfish or should stop daydreaming.
- Count your blessings. Recognize and write down the things in your life for which you are grateful, then reread your list when you are feeling regretful about something.
- Do something that will refocus your thoughts – volunteer, take a class, or get involved with a mentoring program.
- Let go of the things that aren’t serving you and embrace the positives. Challenge your negative thinking (for example, make a list of the trials and pitfalls you went through to get where you are today to remind yourself that the “good old days” weren’t always carefree and wonderful).
- Be gentle with yourself. Don’t try to stuff your emotions or judge yourself for having them.
- Talk to someone. Psychotherapy for phase of life anxiety can help lessen or alleviate the ongoing symptoms that come with a midlife crisis before they get out of hand. For some, group therapy is a great way to interact with others who are going through the same issues so you can see that they have the same concerns and problems as you. If therapy isn’t an option, reach out to supportive friends, read books on how to help a midlife crisis, or turn to your clergy for support.
Can Midlife Anxiety Actually Help You?Remember that midlife anxiety doesn’t have to be something that leads to a crisis! You can channel your concerns into new opportunities and bring greater meaning to your life. This can be a time to:
- Set new goals to replace your outdated or less relevant objectives. For example, if you’re no longer aiming to climb the corporate ladder, try mentoring a younger colleague.
- Start that hobby you’ve been thinking about pursuing. After all – if not now, when?
- Learn a new language or acquire a new skill.
- Give back through volunteering or community work, such as coaching a team sport or helping out at a soup kitchen.
- Renew or consider beginning a spiritual life to help you find strength outside yourself.
- Begin stress management strategies. Take up yoga or learn meditation. Practice mindfulness. Keep a gratitude journal. Start an exercise program.